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No legislator left behind

6 Jan. 2005
Updated 14 Jan. 2005

Here's my premise: Our lawmakers should at least read the text of proposed laws before voting on them. They, personally, should at least read the text. Their staff can fill in with background on implications and side-effects. But they, personally, should at least read the text.

Am I repeating myself? Maybe it's because the point doesn't seem to be finding its mark. We've got lawmakers allowing themselves to be stampeded -- repeatedly -- into voting for legislation that contravenes the Constitution without even reading the text of the bills.

Sometimes it seems that Robert Byrd is the only one who cares anymore.

But consider: If you or I get hauled into court on charges of violating some law, it's no excuse to say we never read it. How, then, can there be any justification for lawmakers not at least reading the text of a bill before voting on it?

Yes, I'm exercised on the point. Here's the letter I sent to my senators and representative:

I am writing as your constituent to ask whether you, personally, read the full text of the intelligence reform act before voting in favor of it.

I have been deeply disturbed over the past three years to see Congress repeatedly stampeded into voting for measures that undermine the Constitution its members have sworn to protect and defend.

Sen. Byrd has had the courage and conscience to say Congress needs time to consider these measures before voting on them. Why is his stand so rare?

I ask you to pledge that in the future you will vote against any measure you have not been able to read. And that you will fight vigorously to restore the constitutional liberties we should all treasure.

Please let me know that you have taken this pledge and let me know what you are doing to encourage other members to join you.

And how did they respond?

One sen started the response thus:

Thank you for writing to me regarding the Intelligence Reform bill recently passed by Congress and signed into law. I was pleased to vote in favor of this bill. It is an important step forward in defending our country against the new threats that face us. However, this bill will not be the last piece of legislation we pass to make us safer.

The other wrote:

I am pleased that Congress gave its final approval to landmark legislation which fundamentally reforms the structure of America's intelligence services. This law addresses what I believe to be the single greatest flaw in the structure of the Intelligence Community-the lack of a single, full-time leader with the strategic, budget and personnel authority to organize and direct it's [sic] 15 agencies and departments.

And my rep:

I voted in favor of S. 2845, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, which passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 336-75, and was signed into law by the President today. As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, achieving real reform of our Intelligence Community has been a top priority of mine, and I'm extremely pleased the House and Senate were able to reach a compromise and pass this legislation with broad bipartisan support.

Not one responded to my question, my challenge.

I think we need a Help Our Legislators Read Act. Should be possible to slip it through. They clearly aren't paying attention.

Copyright © 2005 John Spragens

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